New River Birding and Nature Festival 2012

The birding and the guides are world class, so we came back to this wonderful event for our third year! The festival is always held at the peak of the Spring migration. If you include all our groups of birders at all the sites, 154 species of birds were spotted during the days we were there. Gail and I personally saw 60 species. Many of these are tropical birds that migrate at this time to their northern breeding grounds. Some of them have already arrived to their destination and exhibit territorial, mating and nesting behaviors. Others are just passing through, some of them on their way to Canada. Some of these little flyers migrate over 2,000 miles! Birders from all over the country come to this event because of the sheer number of species, over 200, that can be seen at this time in the various habitats along the New River Gorge. This time of year, birders are particularly interested in spotting Warblers. About 30 species of Warblers can be seen in the gorge at this time. They are small, tricky to spot, and sing soft, beautiful songs which are all somewhat similar. It is a particular challenge to remember these songs, recognize them in the field, track and spot the Warblers. Gail and I saw several, heard several others, but did not have many photo opportunities.

It was overcast and rainy much of the time. But when the rain did stop and the sun peeked through the clouds, the birds were amazing, singing and flying with gusto!

The New River Gorge Bridge is impressive. It is the longest arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere. It carries West Virginia Highway 19, a dramatic 876 feet above the New River!

I’ll have more bridge pictures on a later post when I’ll relay my experience on an exciting bridge walk, along a narrow catwalk underneath the bridge!

But we came for the birding, so here is how it goes. Ever day starts early, before sunrise, so we can get breakfast and be at our sites as early as possible.

The large group of birders have previously decided on one of several local destinations, so we divide into smaller groups. We hop on buses or in our cars, depending on the destination, and try to get there as the sun is first hitting the trees. We make stops where the guides know are the birdiest spots. The gorge is so steep that our vantage points frequently allow us to look at the downhill treetops and the uphill underbrush.

Sometimes we hike directly into the forest to look for the birds who prefer this habitat.

We can encounter some mighty big trees. (Look closer for mini me.)

In this way we can spot beauties like this Blue-winged Warbler…

…and this Indigo Bunting.

It seemed particularly musical this time. Even the more common birds entertained us with their songs. The Brown Thrasher:

The Eastern Towhee:

We were very lucky to hear and see this Golden-winged Warbler, one of the highlights of our trip:

The Long Point Trail was a great spot for us. There were so many birds singing and flying that it was hard to decide where to focus our binoculars and attention. We heard the loud referee whistle of the Great Crested Flycatcher and spotted him way high in a tree,

and the youngest member of our group, a college student from Maryland, spotted this Magnolia Warbler. That wonderful moment was another highlight of the trip, and the pictures might give you a small idea of how tricky it is to find these elusive warblers:

And finally:

After about two hours of fun on that day, it started to rain. We decided to take the two mile hike to Long Point, which is the tip of a giant rock, a cliff really, overlooking the New River. It was a difficult up and down trail, made more difficult by the pouring rain and the resultant muddy spots and slippery rocks. I give Gail a lot of credit as she is still rehabbing her broken and operated hip.

Those were definitely two country miles, but we finally got there. The view was clouded by the weather but it was still dramatic. We could not see the New River which we knew was far below us. We could hear it roaring. And at times we could not see the bridge at all. If you can imagine, the rock we are standing on is the top of a several hundred foot sheer rock cliff.

And then, we had to walk back!

The birding and just being in the middle of such a vast natural wilderness is good for my soul. It is tiring and energizing at the same time. I’m sure I will come back again to the New River Birding and Nature Festival because it makes me feel happy, peaceful, hearty, grateful and alive. All good things. Great things! I am so glad Gail and I equally enjoy this sort of thing.


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